11/29/2006 1:00AM

Diplomacy a virtue for Baze


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Russell Baze is more than a talented rider with strong determination and a fierce will to win. He's also quite a diplomat.

The man who will be the world's winningest rider for many years to come often has his pick of mounts in a race, but he can ride only one horse.

Baze had six mounts on Wednesday at Bay Meadows, and he won with one of them, leaving his career total at 9,529, still one short of Laffit Pincay Jr.'s all-time record of 9,530. Baze was scheduled on six more mounts for Thursday and seven on Friday.

For Baze, first call usually goes to Jerry Hollendorfer, northern California's leading trainer and the the fifth-winningest trainer in history. Hollendorfer and Baze have combined for 1,903 of Hollendorfer's 4,740 victories. Baze has had 5,976 mounts for Hollendorfer.

Yet earlier this year when Baze won nine straight races, the rides came for nine different trainers.

Baze leaves it to his agent, Ray Harris, to make the call, with Harris trying to juggle which horse provides Baze with the best chance to win. That can mean one happy trainer and several unhappy ones when Harris makes his commitment.

It's part of the business for every jockey and agent, but Baze has a way of smoothing hurt feelings.

"If someone's not mad at Ray, he's not doing his job," Baze said, laughing. "As long as they're mad at him, it's okay."

Baze learned early from his father, Joe, that diplomacy helps around the racetrack.

"My dad told me he rode a horse for a trainer once and called him a pig," Baze said. "The trainer only had a couple horses, and it didn't seem like much, but later he got some horses my dad wanted to ride and wouldn't ride him again."

Baze says he made the mistake once, finishing "about a quarter-mile back" on a horse for Hollendorfer.

"I told Jerry he'd never win, so he named somebody on him the next time, and he won four straight," Baze said. "I think he won 12 in his career."

Trainers love the fact that Baze gives his all. If he can't win, he wants to be second. He'll ride all-out even to finish fifth, to help the trainer get a piece of the purse money.

"I know he will get everything he can," trainer Armando Lage said.

In addition to being a diplomat, Baze is also a man of his word.

"People ask me why I'm still riding the last race on a Friday night," Baze said. "If my agent gives a call, it's a binding obligation on my part."

Fulfilling obligations large and small is why Baze is now on his way to 10,000 wins.

Last-race win, and 3 favorites Thursday

Baze won with his final mount Wednesday. Aboard favored Sylvan Hill ($3.80), Baze got his mount's head in front after a stretch-long duel.

“The last four of five, I’ve been having to ride my butt off, not that I mind when I win,” Baze said.

Baze had four other mounts Wednesday, finishing second with Smokin Forest in the third, fourth with favored Where’s My Halo in the second, and last aboard Silverado in the fourth and Au Natural in the fifth. He was also scheduled to ride odds-on Lugano in the seventh but the horse was scratched after he reared and then broke through the gate before the race. Baze was able to jump off without injury.

Among Baze's mounts Thursday are morning-live favorites Global Riot in the second, Stealth Attack in the fifth, and Affidavit in the seventh.